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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
June 6, 2006

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at a Regional Conference on Helping America's Youth
Indiana University
Purdue University Indianapolis University Place
Conference Center
Indianapolis, Indiana

      Helping America's Youth

12:10 P.M. EDT

MRS. BUSH: Thank you very much, Alex. Thank you for your wonderful introduction. Everyone can tell that not only do you love sports, but you must love writing and reading, because you wrote a really wonderful speech, and you gave it very, very well, too. (Applause.)

Alex and Ashley are examples for young people all across our country. And the mentors that work with them, from the Big Brothers-Big Sisters -- Boys and Girls Club are examples for adults from all over our country, as well.

I'm so thrilled to be here today at this first of the regional conferences on Helping America's Youth. I want to acknowledge your Governor, Mitch Daniels, and Cheri Daniels. Governor, you're doing a really terrific job, and I'm really happy that our first regional conference is here in your state. Congressman Dan Burton is here. Thank you, Congressman, for joining us today, as well. Charles Bantz, who is the Chancellor of the University, thank you very much for letting us use your beautiful facilities to host this conference. And I also want to thank the Attorney General of Indiana, Steve Carter, and his wife Marilyn who are with us, as well. Thank you for joining us.

In the crowd, and on the roster of all the speakers are very distinguished community leaders from several states and from all over our country. We represent educators, government officials, law enforcement, pastors, parents -- each group that has a very, very strong interest in making sure American children can grow up safe and healthy and successful. So I want to thank everyone who's here today at the conference, and I want to thank all of our distinguished speakers, as well.

The work that each of you do in your communities, helping young people build the knowledge and the self-respect they need to lead successful lives, is at the very heart of Helping America's Youth. President Bush shares your dedication to young people, and in his 2005 State of the Union address, he announced Helping America's Youth, and asked me to lead it.

Over the last year, because of this, I've traveled to all parts of our country, visiting with young people and with the adults who are so important to their lives. I've been to schools and to after-school programs. I've met with mentors and Big Brothers and Big Sisters. I've visited a sports program in Detroit that you'll hear about later today, a debate program in Atlanta, and a gang intervention program in Los Angeles and Chicago.

These visits culminated last year in the White House Conference on Helping America's Youth. At the conference, we convened more than 500 researchers, civic leaders, educators, and parents to identify the challenges facing America's youth, and to determine what programs are best able to help young people overcome those challenges.

We also introduced an online, interactive community guide, which many of you learned how to use yesterday. Some of you may have already been working with the Community Guide. The guide helps concerned adults learn more about their own specific communities, like which neighborhoods have the most youth-related problems, and what local resources are available to address these problems. The information is available on the website -- g-o-v, that is.

Today's conference -- and other regional conferences to follow -- will build on the White House event. While the discussions in our state and national capitals are important, the real work of helping America's youth is done in our communities -- through personal relationships formed in our streets, churches, schools, and homes. And through the regional conferences, we're making Helping America's Youth more local, so we can learn directly from community leaders about the unique challenges facing your young people.

Those challenges are far greater today than they were for children just a generation ago. Drugs and gangs, predators on the Internet, violence on television and in real life are just some of the negative influences present everywhere today.

As children face these greater dangers, they often have fewer people to turn to for help. More children are raised in single-parent families, most often without a father. Millions of children have one or both parents in prison. Many boys and girls spend more time alone or with their peers than they do with their families. And research shows us that the risks are especially great for boys. Boys are more likely to drop out of school, and less likely to go to college. More boys than girls abuse drugs, join gangs, and engage in violent behavior. Almost three-quarters of youth arrested are boys.

The challenges facing America's young people are great. But like your Governor said, greater still is our love for our young people, our hope for our young people, and the dedication of millions of Americans to helping young people succeed.

But in order to make sure every child is surrounded by these positive influences, even more adults must dedicate themselves to helping America's youth.

More adults need to care -- to be aware of the challenges facing our children, and to take an interest in their lives, because when adults believe in children, children learn to believe in themselves.

I've seen the importance of caring adults. In Omaha, I visited Father Flanagan's Boys and Girls Town. At Father Flanagan's, young people struggling with family problems or delinquency live in a nurturing environment where they can learn the skills of self-respect and self-control that they need to lead happy, productive lives.

After my visit, I got a lot of letters from the kids I met at Father Flanagan's, and they were a joy to read -- and not just because of the nice things the children had to say about me, like one girl who wrote and said, "You're the most important First Lady that I've met in my whole entire life. (Laughter.)

But what really moved me was that in letter after letter, the children told me how happy they were to know that someone cared. I remember a letter from Brittney, who wrote: "You helped me realize that there are people who truly care." She added that the encouragement of caring adults at Father Flanagan's inspired her to care for others, and to run for Mayor of Girls and Boys Town.

Adults, and especially parents, also need to connect with their children, to establish relationships in which they can teach kids healthy behaviors by their own good example.

I have seen the importance of these relationships. In Milwaukee, at Rosalie Manor Community and Family Services Center, men participate in the "Today's Dads" program, which helps teenagers and young men become responsible, nurturing parents.

At Rosalie I met Jason, who joined "Today's Dads" when he was 16. Without a dad in his own life, Jason became involved with drugs, and dropped out of school. When his girlfriend became pregnant, a friend of Jason's mother referred him to the program.

At Rosalie, Jason was paired with a mentor, Alphonso, who helped Jason understand his responsibilities as a parent. As Jason and Alphonso have grown closer, Alphonso says that Jason looks to him for the fatherly advice he missed from his own father.

"He calls me all the time," Alphonso says, remembering how once Jason got into an argument with his girlfriend and "wanted to know how to make her stop being mad at him." Alphonso shared with Jason profound, ageless wisdom about relations between the sexes: "I told him to buy her a card and a flower." (Laughter.) It worked. (Laughter.)

Over the last two years, with Alphonso's guidance, Jason has worked to support his son and he's completing his GED. Jason is involved in his son's life, and he's now the proud father of a baby girl. Jason has ambitious goals for his family, and he's determined to be a better father to his children than his father was to him. And because of Jason's dedication and accomplishments, he's been nominated for a positive fatherhood award by the Milwaukee Fatherhood Collaborative.

Adults must make sustained commitments to children -- commitments of our time and our energy -- because young people are more likely to invest in their own future when they know that someone else is invested along with them.

I've seen the importance of committed adults. In Los Angeles, I visited Homeboy Industries. The program was founded by Father Gregory Boyle, a priest who had decided he'd buried too many young people killed by gang violence. At Homeboy Industries, youth receive counseling and training, and even free tattoo removal, to help them leave their gangs behind.

Most important, Homeboy Industries provides job training for young people so that they can become employed. As Father told me -- Father Boyle said to me, he said, "Laura, I know it's not this simple, but it's jobs." If young people are employed, they're much more likely to lead happy lives because they can be productive and constructive. They learn that respect comes not from belonging to a gang, but from earning an honest living for themselves and their families.

One of these young people is Herbert Corleto, who grew up with the example of gang life all around him. Without a committed adult in his life, Herbert said he had no one to show him the possibility of a bright future beyond his barrio. He became involved in gang activity at the age of 14, dropped out of school, and ended up serving five years in prison.

That's when Herbert decided to turn his life around. "I thought, 'I don't want to be in this place for the rest of my life,'" he remembers. In jail, Herbert received computer training and his GED, and he also heard about Homeboy Industries.

When Father Boyle first met Herbert, he hired him on the spot to work at Homeboy's Graffiti Removal program. Because of that experience, Herbert now has an office management job with a local engineering firm. He's taking classes at Los Angeles Community College, working on a bachelor's degree in business administration.

And recognizing the difference Father Boyle's commitment made in his life, Herbert goes back to Homeboy Industries, so he can be an example to other young people the way Father Boyle was to him. When Herbert speaks to former gang members looking for a second chance, he says: "I want them to see that when you're given the opportunity, all you have to do is take advantage of it."

When adults offer young people a chance, their love and support can show struggling youth the hope that lies beyond their future, and sometimes that hope makes all the difference. As Father Boyle says, "I never knew a hopeful kid who joined a gang."

Thank you all so much for coming today. Thank you for your contributions to this conference. You've just heard from Governor Daniels about the challenges that Indiana faces now. Later, you'll hear about a great program that's working to meet some of those challenges, Think Detroit.

I visited Think Detroit, which teaches character development and healthy behavior through sports. Afterward, a newspaper reporter asked one of the little boys I met what he thought about my visit. And I was moved when I read the little boy said, "I wish she could stay here."

Young people want us in their lives, and they need us in their lives. And as I've learned from the remarkable men and women I've met across our country, each of us has the power to help America's youth.

Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)

END 12:23 P.M. EDT

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